History of the Artichoke

It’s a pity artichokes never get to bloom and flaunt their pretty purple flower for everyone to see.  Eating the flower buds of the artichoke plant goes way back in its long history – and you’d be surprised to know just how far back that is.

Although no one – not even food historians — can exactly pinpoint where this enigmatic plant came from, humanity has been partaking on artichoke buds for over 3000 years.

There has been some mention of the artichoke plant in Roman and Greek literature, but is has been said that the first artichoke originated in Sicily, Italy sometime in 500 BC.

An exotic and very expensive plant, artichokes were eaten by members of the aristocracy alone – they are the only ones who can afford it.  This thistle was also believed to have aphrodisiac qualities and only men were allowed to consume it.

From Italy, artichokes made their way to Naples and Florence, then to England where it was not received very well.  When the fall of Rome came about, the artichoke was forgotten.  It was revived only in the middle of the 15th century in Italy.

The wife of King Henry II of France, Catherine de Medici, brought the artichoke back to life when she brought the thistle to France along with cooks who have knowledge on how to prepare them.

Although women were forbidden to eat artichokes, Catherine de’ Medici loved the thistles’ delicate taste and even ate them in public.  Indeed, it was said she fainted often from eating too many artichokes.

Italian and Spanish explorers and settlers brought the artichoke plant to the United States in the 1600s.   When it was discovered that it adapts fairly well to the climate in the coastal regions of California, locals started growing them.

The 1920s brought fame to artichokes when it started to become widely grown and utilized, especially in Castroville, California – the self-proclaimed artichoke capital of the world.

Its reputation as one of the top artichoke producers was concretized when Marilyn Monroe has been crowned “Artichoke Queen” in 1948.